It’s a small change in the grand scheme of things, but Fairfax County supervisors and environmental advocates said the county’s new ban on plastic bags for yard waste will cut down on pollution and reduce equipment damage.
The Board of Supervisors approved the proposed ordinance change Feb. 23 on a 9-1 vote with Supervisor Patrick Herrity (R-Springfield) voting nay.
The ban will take effect March 1, the starting date for the county’s yard-waste season, which lasts through Dec. 24. The county has no immediate plans to crack down on homeowners who do not comply with the new rules, but officials have used the last year as a transition period to prepare the public for the anticipated ban, said Eric Forbes of the county’s Department of Public Works and Environmental Services.
“In terms of the honeymoon period, we will encourage the collection companies to notify their customers about the new requirement [and] provide notices and/or tags on improperly set out yard waste that may be left uncollected,” he said.
“We do not anticipate a 100-percent success rate in the beginning, but we will continue our outreach in collaboration with industry to help our community reach compliance with the new requirements,” he added.
Some waste haulers in the community already have made the business decision to notify customers they were going to stop collecting yard waste in plastic bags, Forbes said. Waste collectors already may refuse to pick up bags weighing more than 50 pounds and instead ask customers to re-bag the materials, he said.
Paper yard-waste bags typically hold 30 gallons’ worth of material and cost 50 cents apiece, which is more than the 30-cent cost for plastic bags, Forbes said. However, plastic bags often hold much more material, said Supervisor Rodney Lusk (D-Lee).
Plastic bags also tend to damage processing equipment, which results in a cost borne by all customers, said Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay (D). Pulverized plastic also contaminate the resulting mulch, Forbes said.
Bagging yard waste need not always be the first alternative for residents, Forbes said. Homeowners can “grass-cycle” yard waste with their lawn mowers, leaving the ground up material on their yards to nourish the grass, he said. Residents also may compost yard waste or set it out for collection in reusable containers, he said.
Hunter Mill District resident Rick Galliher agreed, adding that bagging leaves is a “miserable” activity.
“We have to teach the residents, and especially our children, that what you do with your trash matters,” he said.
Supervisor Penelope Gross (D-Mason) supported the ban, despite some personal reservations, and said some of her older constituents were concerned about the prospect.
“Quite frankly, the paper bags don’t hold up,” she said. “They don’t hold up well to the rain or the snow and they are hard to use.”
Several environmental activists testified in favor of the plastic-bag ban.
“To reverse climate catastrophe, each of us must make many small and large steps,” said Eric Goplerud, board chairman of Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions (FACS).
The bag ban is a “step in the struggle to eliminate carbon pollution,” said FACS co-founder Scott Peterson, who copped to stuffing leaves into 90 bags when he and his family first moved into their house.
Plastics are harming the world’s oceans, said Vienna resident Helene Shore, co-chairman of 350 Fairfax, a grass-roots environmental group.
“We have contaminated our rivers, streams and oceans to the point that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean, by weight, than fish,” she said.
Plastics never fully disappear from the environment, said David Kuebrich, who lives in the Braddock District. Their microscopic particles have been linked to multiple health problems, including organ and nervous-system problems, cancer, reduced fertility for both sexes and developmental delays in children, he said.
“Years ago, ‘immortal’ was mainly used to describe the human soul,” Kuebrich said. “Now we use it to describe the plastic bags we put our leaves in.”